With just twelve games remaining in the regular season, the Colorado Avalanche will embark on a season-defining three-game road across the western Canadian provinces. On Friday, they'll take on the Calgary Flames, and on Sunday they'll try their luck against the Edmonton Oilers -- two teams well-positioned for more lottery picks again next summer. The first test, however, will be tonight against a Vancouver Canucks team that's given the Avs fits in it's two previous meetings this season.
Vancouver outscored Colorado 3-1 on February 9th and 5-1 a couple weeks later on the 21st, both in rather disappointing fashion. The Avalanche simply can't accept a similar result if they expect to remain in playoff consideration with the Minnesota Wild. Not helping will be the continued absence of captain Gabriel Landeskog, who will be serving the second of a three-game suspension for a cross-check to Anaheim's Simon Despres. In his place on Carl Soderberg's left wing will be Andreas Martinsen, who gets his third straight start after sitting a number of recent games in reserve. The big Norwegian has played admirably since being called upon, but the void left by Landeskog will continue to be a major blow to the team.
The good news is rookie defenseman Chris Bigras appears to be on-track to rejoining the team after missing the previous three games with a concussion. Bigras has been skating with the team this week at practice and will be eligible to play again after clearing the NHL's concussion protocol. His availability for tonight is questionable as of this writing, but the odds are good he's able to play at some point on this road trip. Zach Redmond had been playing in his place on the bottom pairing, but after a neutral zone turnover that led to Winnipeg's game-winning goal on Saturday, it's very possible we see Andrew Bodnarchuk instead.
The Canucks are dealing with a few short-term injuries themselves. Jannik Hansen, Markus Granlund, and Alexandre Burrows are all expected to miss tonight's game with a variety of maladies. Unfortunately, that still leaves the Sedin twins, who once again are first and second in team scoring. It also leaves up-and-comer Bo Horvat, who has 31 points in 68 games this year. In goal will be Ryan Miller again, who, despite sporting a rather pedestrian .915 save percentage on the season, was a force of nature during his last appearance against the Avs, stopping 37-of-38 shots on his way to victory.
In other notes, Matt Duchene will be going for his 30th goal on the season after scoring his 29th against the Jets. He would be the first Avalanche player to do since Joe Sakic in 2006-07.
Mikhail Grigorenko - Matt Duchene - Jarome Iginla
Mikkel Boedker - Nathan MacKinnon - Blake Comeau
Andreas Martinsen - Carl Soderberg - Shawn Matthias
Cody McLeod - John Mitchell - Jack Skille
Francois Beauchemin - Erik Johnson
Nick Holden - Tyson Barrie
Eric Gelinas - Andrew Bodnarchuk